The deep waters of California are creating what is known as an oases of biodiversity. This finding is important for marine wildlife in a world where human population growth and overfishing have caused marine wildlife to struggle.

Off the coast of the state are submarine mountains that are thousands of feet high and provide the ideal ecosystem for wildlife to grow and prosper.

Known as seamounts, these mountains can be distinguished in a few ways to fit the classification:

  • 1,000 meters or higher in height
  • Steep sides
  • Elliptical or circular in shape

California’s seamounts are massive, and the largest of the sea mountains is called Davidson Seamount.

Davidson Seamount is 4,101 feet below the sea level, yet the massive underwater mountain is 7,480 feet tall.

How Seamounts Are Formed

Davidson, and all other seamounts, are typically formed due to volcanic eruptions. These eruptions often occur under the water, but in many cases of the larger seamounts, the eruptions spewed ash out of the ocean waters to breach the surface.

Hawaii’s islands were formed due to this same natural event.

California’s Seamounts Are Millions of Years Old

The seamounts found off of the coast of California have been extensively researched, and researchers believe that the seamounts were formed during volcanic eruptions some 7 – 16 million years ago.

The “youngest” seamount off of the coast of California is estimated to be 2.8 million years old.

Researchers estimate that there are over 30,000 seamounts all over the world. California is home to 56 seamounts that have been identified. This chain of underwater mountains spans 200 nautical miles off of the shore and is known as the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Seamounts Provide an Ecological Oases

Seamounts play a large role in the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. Most of the seamounts in the world are highly productive. These spots are biodiverse, and this is primarily due to the change in currents caused by underwater mountains.

Reduced sediment loss occurs as a result of the mountains, which allows for a greater abundance of food and nutrient-rich water.

California’s seamounts haven’t been explored thoroughly to be able to determine the exact extent of biodiversity in the area. Davidson Seamount has been studied enough to know that the mountain is home to 25 species of cold-water coral. Surveys of the area also find that the seamounts are highly diverse, but further research needs to be conducted in the area.

A recent survey of 3 seamounts found 13 new invertebrates discovered as well as a sponge species, urchin and coral.

Increased prey due to the highly diverse environment has attracted seabirds and cetaceans that are preying on sea life near the seamounts. The seamounts have also been studied for their link to shark navigation. Studies show that sharks will use the magnetic signatures, unique to each seamount, to navigate.

The finding gives credence to the idea that large, top predators in the ocean waters rely on seamounts for feeding, resting and mating.

Sadly, just 1.5% of the world’s seamounts are in protected areas, which allows for devastation of these areas due to human activity, primarily fishing and mining.

When you walk into your local supermarket, you assume that the fish you’re purchasing was caught legally. After all, there’s no way to tell the difference between legally- and illegally-caught fish. But the reality is that the United States imports nearly $2 billion in IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) seafood per year.

IUU imports indirectly encourage destructive fishing practices and overfishing and make it more difficult for U.S. fisherman to make a living. These imports undercut prices for seafood caught in the U.S. and compete with law-abiding fishermen that adhere to the strict requirements put forth by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act.

The Obama administration has taken an important step in putting an end to illegal fishing by signing the PSMA (Port State Measures Agreement). The PSMA pledges the U.S.’s commitment to working with other countries to prevent illegally-caught fish from entering local markets. The measure helps reach this goal by reducing the number of ports where illegal seafood products can be unloaded. The PSMA, simply put, makes it more difficult for illegal fishermen to do business.

In addition, the PSMA allows personnel in the U.S. to use tools to stop ships hauling illegal fish from selling their products. Once the treaty has been signed by 25 countries, the agreement will go into effect for all who signed.

Under the agreement, several large markets would be closed to IUU fishermen, which would significantly reduce the incentive to fish illegally. The treaty also bolsters and streamlines enforcement of numerous international fishing agreements.

A new Task Force has been established to combat IUU fishing, which is co-chaired by the Secretaries of State and Commerce. The Task Force will provide the president with guidance on how to draft regulations for implementing the agreement.

Thailand, one of the leading exporters of seafood to the United States and several other countries, may feel the effects of PSMA. The country has been warned on several occasions of their illegal fishing practices. The EU has noted that further action may be taken by the European Commission, which may include a ban on seafood imports from Thailand.

Activists say Thailand, the third largest exporter of seafood in the world, gained its status largely through overfishing and its reliance on trafficked workers from neighboring countries.

It can be difficult to really assess the impact of IUU fishing without looking at the bigger picture. A 2013 report from Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries Conference outline some of the issues that IUU fishing has led to.

IUU fishing has led to three to four times more sharks being killed than officially reported. Hong Kong has a thriving shark fin trade that brings in $292-$476 million in sales.

Russian sockeye salmon that is caught illegally is believed to be 60-90% above reported levels, which represents an economic loss of $40-$74 million.

Estimates show that half of the cod in the U.K. and the swordfish in Greece were caught illegally.

Levels of illegally-caught Chilean sea bass are believed to be 5-10 times higher than reported.

It’s estimated that illegal catches of bigeye tuna, skipjack and yellowfin amount to $548 million per year.

Recreational boating has had a severe impact on marine life. A recent report conducted in the European Union found that waste water has caused a negative impact on marine wildlife. The pressure of human activity is on the rise, with 90% if the biosphere under pressure from human activity.

And the third source of pollution is marine transport.

Transport was not defined, but it is speculated that machines powered by humans would not have the same level of impact on marine life as would a cruise ship. A person that is rowing, for example, would not cause the water to be polluted unless other factors were in play at the time.

A finding from a European team of consultants found that the seven main impacts on marine life are:

  • Engines: Specifically, the hydrocarbon released by the engines of boats and fishing vessels have a major impact on marine life. But it is noted that marine transport vehicles emit just 2% of all hydrocarbon released from land-based activities.
  • Bilge and Oily Water: Water that is oily or bilge has an impact on marine life. This is often oil released into the environment from unburnt fuel. This impact is small, but it can be noted by an oily film or water found near parked boats.
  • Sewage and Grey Water: Sewage and grey water, or water from washing, enters the sea causing chemicals and fats to enter the ocean. Biodegradable products would be able to halt the damage done by grey water.
  • Physical Damage: The physical damage caused by anchoring might be harmful to the seabed. This is a hard variable to assess, as each government is responsible for the proper infrastructure needed for anchoring.
  • Noise: The noise caused by older engines found on boats led to a new level of noise emission requirements in 2006. The noise has been seen as a disturbance to humans and marine life alike.
  • Depletion: The level of fish in the water is rapidly declining, and this is due to illegal fishing for the most part. Recreational fishing doesn’t have a major impact on fish stocks, but commercial fishing, especially in protected areas, is a major issue.
  • Antifouling Paints: Paints that are used to stop the development of marine organisms on the surface off a hull may be harmful to the marine environment the study found.

The studies point to human activity in the water needing to be regulated at the highest level. Virtually all activity seems to have some form of an impact on the marine environment, but with proper laws in place, the damage done will be kept to a minimum.

Even land-based activities, such as using your water rower machine at home, may have an impact on marine life. This would be a result of how the machine is manufactured and if the machine needs electricity to operate.

Awareness was cited as one of the most important factors to reducing the impact of human activity on marine life. The EU was alerted of the findings so that the proper regulations and protocols can be followed to lessen human disturbance on marine life.

Sharks have a reputation for being cold-blooded killers thanks to movies like Jaws and The Shallows. But in reality, sharks should be the ones terrified of humans – not the other way around. Each year, we kill 100 million sharks in fisheries – yes, 100 million. Between 2006 and 2010, the annual count of fatal shark attacks was around 4.

Why Shark Conservation is Important

In their domain, sharks are at the top of the food chain. And with few natural predators, these sea creatures play an important role in the structure of marine communities. Sharks directly influence prey populations and distribution, which ultimately has a regulating effect that permeates down the food chain to the tiniest of phytoplankton.

Researchers have found that this type of regulation leads to a more diverse, resilient and healthier ecosystem. In fact, an untouched reef environment would require a large number of sharks to maintain a healthy ecological balance.

Aside from maintaining balance, sharks are also a tourist attraction – as strange as that sounds. A study from 2012 found that shark diving ecotourism brought in $18 million per year.

Sharks are also particularly vulnerable to overfishing. They reach sexual maturity later in life, they grow slowly, and they only give birth to a small number of young. Their fins are also highly prized in some parts of the world for shark fin soup.

Shark Conservation Efforts Are Making Strides

Groups like Virgin Unite and Pew Charitable Trusts have focused on both the ecological and economic benefits to protecting sharks, and have pushed governments to implement more comprehensive conservation programs.

As a result, several governments around the world have developed shark sanctuaries. Other countries have placed partial bans on shark fishing in certain areas, while others have added shark protections to marine protected areas. Some governments have outright banned shark fishing in their EEZ (exclusive economic zone).

Palau was the first to declare a shark sanctuary, and several nations have followed suit. A total of 20 EEZ sanctuaries now exist in 19 countries. Three new sanctuaries were announced and implemented in 2016.

The entire EEZs of the Cayman Islands and Saint Maarten are off limits to shark fishing, and the Galapagos Marine Sanctuary also protects shark habitat.

Five other sanctuaries are in the works for next year, including those in Grenada and Curacao, which will transform their entire EEZs into shark sanctuaries. The Philippines will also designate three areas as shark sanctuaries.

Combating Illegal Fishing

The creation of shark sanctuaries is a step in the right direction and will go a long way in protecting this important sea creature. But our work is not nearly done. Illegal fishing still takes place in these protected areas, and vast areas of the ocean are still unprotected.

Enforcement of existing sanctuaries is of the utmost importance, but it is equally important to push for fully-protected reserves, which offer the most protection. Expanding existing sanctuaries will allow for more effective preservation of sharks and the ocean’s natural biodiversity against human consumption and climate change.

Trade between countries has been the backbone of the global environment. Long before the United States, the European Union and Brexit, humans were using waterways and oceans as their main source of delivering goods and trade.

Seafood has been a major proponent of trade, too, due to its high protein levels and nutrient-rich content.

The high seas account for roughly 50% of the entire earth’s size, and it’s important to be able to restore the vitality and biodiversity to these areas. Human activity has caused a major strain on marine life, and overfishing and illegal fishing practices have amplified the impact of human activity in high seas.

Proper Conservation Starts Regionally

The future of high seas conservation requires a change that occurs on a regional basis. Regions will need to offer a systematic, ecosystem-based plan that will be able to protect areas of the high seas that are ecologically significant.

Seamounts, or sea mountains, are a prime example of an area of the sea where biodiversity is normally high.

Marine ConservationSeamounts offer the perfect environment for deep sea fish to thrive, and many of these mountains have an abundance of diversity that humans have studied only briefly. These areas, for example, offer a variety of the new species found for fish, coral and sponges, which are specific to these very seamounts.

Regions will need to focus on the habitat as a whole rather than on one species that may be endangered or harmed.

Species interactions will need to be taken into account as well as migratory practices so that a concrete plan can be devised to ensure conservation. The focal points on regions is suggested because each region will have its own conservation issues and goals, depending on the marine life that resides in the region.

Protection Goals on a Worldwide Basis

Protection needs to occur regionally, but worldwide agreements will help to ensure the future of the high seas. International treaties and agreements will need to be devised with the goal of reaching 30% of the ocean being conserved by 2030.

Why 30% conservation?

The figure comes from the Global Ocean Refuge System. The system would allow for the rejuvenation of the marine life in the high seas needed to counteract the damage caused by humans.

Progress has been made with a Spring 2016 meeting of the United Nation General Assembly. The assembly made great progress in an effort to boost conservation practices. The committee discussed:

  • Critical elements of a treaty
  • Protection for biodiversity in high seas
  • International means to ensure biodiversity

Humans have started to encroach on the high seas, and any international treaties that aim to help protect the high seas is working in the right capacity to help protect them.

The high seas are further an area that is not allowed to be subject to sovereignty. The issue was brought up in 1609, but it wasn’t accepted until the 19th century.  This, in effect, means that the high seas cannot be owned, and it is free to navigate, too. This puts an even larger stress on how and who can implement conservation of the high seas.